Treating nausea is one of the oldest uses of medical marijuana, with
over 50 studies from around the world supporting its efficacy.
For most people, the word "nausea" is associated with mild
unpleasantness. But for those undergoing chemotherapy, treatment for
HIV/AIDS, or a handful of other chronic illnesses, nausea can be an
extremely serious problem. Chronic nausea and vomiting can lead to
dehydration, weight loss, malnutrition, and other conditions that
complicate the initial illness and inhibit recovery.
Used to Combat Chemotherapy Side Effects Since the 1970s
Researchers have known since the 1970s that marijuana relieves nausea
and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment. In more recent
years, it has been used in conjunction with AIDs treatment to reduce
nausea and improve appetite. A survey published in the Journal of
Clinical Oncology reported that of physicians polled, 77% felt that
medical marijuana was more effective than conventional medications, and
more than 44% had recommended medical marijuana to their patients.
It is speculated that cannabis’ anti-nausea effect may be due to its
ability to block receptors in the 5-HT or
serotonin family. While
these receptors are also targeted by traditional anti-emetics, the
effects of cannabis on the
central nervous systems may make it more effective than standard
Although there are various anti-nausea drugs currently in use, most have
potential side effects ranging from the small nuisances to the
life-threatening complications. Medical marijuana treats nausea without
the risk of major side effects. While conventional drugs may cause side
effects ranging from constipation and headaches to fainting and chest
pain, cannabis generally has no side effects beyond improved appetite.
The most serious side effect recorded is cannabis hyperemesis syndrome,
or cannabis-induced vomiting, which occurs extremely rarely and only in
very long-term heavy users. For those using cannabis medicinally, this
is not a serious concern.
FDA-Approved Cannabis Derivatives
There are currently two cannabis-derived drugs FDA-approved for the
treatment of nausea and vomiting. Dronabinol (under the brand name
Marinol) and Nabilone. Both are synthetic versions of THC, the active
ingredient in marijuana.
Inhaled or Ingested Cannabis for Nausea?
While these medications have proven to be effective, inhaled marijuana
may be a better option for some patients. A comprehensive 1999 report
by the Institutes of
Medicine found that
patients suffering nausea and vomiting had a difficult time swallowing
or keeping pills down and recommended an inhalation delivery system for
Medical marijuana is well-documented as an effective treatment for
nausea, particularly in conjunction with chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS
treatment. While synthetic cannabis derivatives may be a viable option
for those in areas without approved medical marijuana, the inhaled
product is preferable where available.